The room is elegantly decorated, with pictures of beautiful artworks gracing the walls, antique furniture and Japanese ornaments. It smells a little bit like a hospital, and the buzzing sound is non-stop. I’m in Black Crown Tattoo Studio, Leeds City Centre.

In recent years, the number of tattoo studios and their clients has risen dramatically, partly due to the success of television shows like “Miami Ink” and its many variants. Leeds now has a growing tattoo culture, with over ten tattoo studios in the city. 2010 saw the first Tattoo/Body Art Expo take place there.
I was in the studio with my sister, who was having a large tattoo on her ribs. “I'd never have a tattoo this big somewhere really obvious,” she says. “Imagine going for an important job interview with a massive tattoo all down your arm.” It seems like this is a common view for women, me included. I have a large tattoo of flowers, birds and butterflies up my right leg, and as much as I adore the tattoo and love showing it off, the fact that in a job interview or another important formal event I can hide it underneath some trousers or tights, was one of the main deciding factors in where to position my tattoo.
Andrew Buckley, 26, has a Japanese style tattoo on his upper arm. He tells me, “Getting a tattoo which I could hide was never an issue for me. I think they have become so mainstream for men now that it wouldn’t matter in most cases. I can see why it would be different for girls though, tattoos are sometimes not seen as a very feminine thing to have.”
Is there still a prejudice against women with tattoos? Katy Smits, a tattoo artist from Leeds, thinks so. “I think that the older generation probably still associate tattooed women with deviance and may perceive them in a negative way,” she says. “However, I feel that the majority of the population have now been exposed to so many women with tattoos that it's not an issue. People seem very accepting when women have small decorative floral tattoos although when they receive a large tattoo, this may still cause some people to look down on them.”
Tattoos, Desire And Violence, a book by Karin E. Beeler, reckons that “tattooed women or women tattoo artists function as examples of female empowerment”, but also adds “women often appear to have more limitations imposed on them by the patriarchal structure of tattoo communities”. Tattooed females are also starting to be more commonly seen as objects of male desire, for example the men's magazines Front and Inked now feature pictures of girls with lots of tattoos and not much clothing.
60 years ago few women would dare to have been tattooed, but now it seems more celebrated. Celebrities and role models alike now have tattoos, Cheryl Cole, Madonna, Angelina Jolie, to name a few, and they openly flaunt them.
No argument that a badly done tattoo looks distasteful on anyone, no matter where or what it is, but some people rightly consider beautiful tattoos works of art. Tattoo artists are artists. Why is a picture less beautiful when it's painted onto a living thing, rather than on a canvas? There’s something more skillful and dedicated about tattoo artistry compared with any other art, because the tattoo will be a piece of art one person will have forever and one tiny mistake could destroy the artists reputation in a second.
Case in point. My ex-boss at Subway interviewed someone and when I asked how it went, he said: “He was ok, but I doubt I’m going to hire him.” Why? Tattoos, of course. “If he had just had a small one or a hidden one that would have been fine, but they were all over his arms and highly visible. It made me think he was hot headed and makes decisions without thinking about it first. And also he's not thinking of his future with those all over his arms, is he?” So many judgments just from a glance of his tattoos.
Do I think my tattoo is going to affect my job prospects in the future? No, I don't but I think it depends on what tattoo you have, where you have it and what kind of job you’re aiming for. The tattoo industry is booming. Tattoos, especially on women, are losing the stigma of violence or trashiness, and as the industry evolves so do the tattoos, more beautiful and detailed than ever before.
The Black Crowd Tattoo Studio is a typical tattoo parlour and a far cry from the seedy image which used to be associated with the art. The future for tattoos looks bright, and as Katy says “it will just be second nature to see our generation covered in tattoos when we grow up anyway so it's not too much of an issue”. Who knows, one day the Prime Minister himself – or herself – could have two full sleeves and a chest piece.

Rosa Mitchell

Photo credit: Daniel Flower

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